No Can Do!

Frank Newberryin Training & Education

Trainer Frank Newberry has been helping people to be more assertive at work for over thirty years. Saying 'no' to requests for help can be difficult. Frank provides five simple tips on how to say 'no' to people.

This topic is very important for those of us who find it difficult to say 'no' to people sometimes. Most of us were taught by parents and teachers to be kind, to be helpful - to say 'yes' when people ask us for help or for a favour.

Our young, unquestioning minds would have found this advice hard to resist. Now we find that we have been conditioned over many years to do what is known as 'approval seeking behaviour' - to be nice, to be agreeable, to be generous, so that people approve of us and we become popular.

Many people tell me (in later life) that when they say 'no' they feel guilty. Many also do not like getting into conflict with others. It is easier for them to say 'yes' and do something they do not really want to do, than to say 'no'. They gain harmony and acceptance and avoid conflict and potential rejection.

In adult life, some things are easier to say 'no' to - things like junk mail, spam, sales people on the telephone. Recently, a person I know (a very warm and decent person) asked me for a favour.

A favour that would be time consuming and expensive for me to grant - with little or no benefit to me. I say this only because, with a little effort on the part of the person asking for the favour, I could have said 'yes' straight away.

The invitation came by email (see Tip Number 1), so I had time to think about how I would say 'no' and to work out what would need to be in place for me to say 'yes'.

Tip Number 1: Put it in writing

Tip 1 then is to ask (if you can) for the details of the request in writing. This is especially useful if you are being put on the spot by the person and/or you really need time to think.

You might consider a phrase like; 'I will have to get back to you on that, could you drop me an email with all the details?'

If the person insists on an answer straight away and you wish to decline for any reason, then you can respond with; 'If you want an answer straight away, then the answer is "not at the moment"'. They may counter with 'When?' To which your answer is 'I'll get back to you - could you send me an email?' You may need to repeat this communication loop more than once! Which brings us to Tip Number 2

Tip Number 2: You may not have to agree or decline immediately

Tip 2 is to remember that, at this early stage, you may not have to agree or decline immediately.

At any stage, it does not help if you keep apologising or blaming others or making excuses. This kind of talk projects you as unprofessional and lacking confidence.

You can, and should, show respect for the person and for their request by expressing regret but, unless you are to blame for their problem, you have nothing to apologise for.

You might consider a phrase like; 'I can see that this is a real problem and I am in the middle of something right now. I can free up some time to discuss the problem with you at 4 o'clock today'.

You may wish to offer the person an appointment at a time close to when they would normally finish work. Research has found that most people at work will not show up for a 'late' appointment.

Tip Number 3: Agree some Groundrules

Tip 3 will eradicate most of the problems surrounding saying 'no' to people. Tip 3 is to have agreed ground rules in place with your boss, your colleagues and your team members. You will need to agree ground rules about which work situations it is okay for people to interrupt you with last minute or demanding requests - and which situations are not okay.

You might consider a phrase like: 'I do not ever want to be a nuisance, but I would like to agree with you when it is okay for me to interrupt what you are doing and ask for your help - and vice versa'. The advantage here is that, when you do barge in on someone for a favour, you know your interruption is going to be a more welcome one.

Tip Number 4: Be ready with alternatives

Tip 4 may take you a little time and thought on your part, but will be well worth it. Tip 4 is to be ready instantly (well eventually) with the names of other people who can help the person asking for a favour.

You might consider phrases like: 'Give person X a call', 'Check if person Y is available', 'Person Z would be very good for that task and might welcome a development opportunity or the chance to help out'.

Tip Number 5: Be persistent

If you have not yet got ground rules in place, you may need to deploy Tip 5 - which is to be persistent. This means that, until the relevant ground rules have been agreed, you may well need to:

1. Be sure of your position

2. Stick to your bottom line

3. Recognise other people's rights, needs and feelings

4. Keep calm and seek a compromise - for the time being

5. 'No, (but) Can Do' - Try to end your discussion on what you can do

You might consider a phrase like; 'Okay, so we do not see eye to eye on this. What I can do though is to agree something for now and get the job sorted. We can then review it all in the morning'.

Good luck with saying 'no' and explaining what you can do!

© 2018 Frank Newberry

If you want to learn more about being confident and assertive at work (with people at all levels in the organisation) come along to Grounds Training's Supervisor Seminars this winter!

Dates and venue now confirmed. Attend one, two, three or all four of them!

Taking Charge 14th November 2018

Getting Better Results 12th December 2018

Enhanced Communication Skills 10th January 2019

Problem Solving and Decision Making 21st February 2019

Venue: Allscott Park, Telford TF6 5DY.

For further details and booking visit

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